Doctor: Talk show triggered trauma

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2002

A Juneau woman who was ridiculed and lewdly taunted on a nationally syndicated radio talk show was traumatized by the experience and suffered severe emotional illness, two people who treated her testified Friday in Juneau Superior Court.

The psychiatrist and psychotherapist who treated Karen Carpenter admitted, however, they did not independently verify Carpenter's account of her emotional or physical condition before the radio show and in the months just after it.

Carpenter, 51, is suing talk show host Tom Leykis and the production company Westwood One, of the Los Angeles area, alleging they intentionally inflicted serious emotional harm by ridiculing her on a July 24, 1998, broadcast and encouraged listeners to contact her at home. Carpenter is seeking compensation and punitive damages in the civil trial, which began Wednesday.

Leykis today is heard on more than 60 radio stations across the nation by a collective audience of about 2 million people, Westwood One said. Leykis and his callers often talk about sex and he encourages women motorists to bare their breasts on what he calls Flash Fridays.

The dispute stems from Carpenter's effort in July 1998 to get local station KJNO-AM to cancel the Leykis show, which aired in the afternoon, because she considered it vulgar. She wrote to the station to say she had contacted several local advertisers and KJNO would be picketed soon.

"My concerns were about the content of the Tom Leykis Show being in the afternoon hours, when children were most likely to be out there listening," Carpenter testified Friday. She said she wasn't part of an organized effort to remove the show.

Leykis read the letter over the air on the show's final broadcast in Juneau, named Carpenter, and called her a moron and a cretin. He suggested that she needed sex and he played the sound effect of a vibrator. He asked if she was getting sexually aroused, and said he was enjoying himself and was aroused.

A tape exists of the first two hours of the four-hour broadcast, and the jury heard it Thursday. A caller from Juneau gave out part of her home phone number - the show blocked some digits - and her entire home fax number and suggested that "everybody should give her a piece of our minds."

A friend of Carpenter, who was working outdoors while listening to the July 24 show, testified Thursday that someone in the second half of the show, for which there is no tape, gave out all of Carpenter's home phone number.

Carpenter's attorneys will have to show that she suffered severe emotional distress and that Leykis intended to cause that.

Psychotherapist Virginia Hayes and Dr. Charles Ellis testified that each diagnosed Carpenter with post-traumatic stress disorder in December 1998 after interviews of about one hour, when she came to the city's mental health center seeking a doctor's signature for her application for some type of public assistance. Both later treated her, and Ellis prescribed anti-depressant medication.

"She was afraid that someone was going to come to her house and physically harm her," Ellis said on the stand Friday.

"Her home, her sanctuary, was invaded in some very cruel ways," Hayes said, referring to phone calls and faxes Carpenter received after the broadcast.

Hayes and Ellis said their observations of Carpenter in the interviews matched what she said about her emotional condition since the radio show. Carpenter told Hayes she slept and ate erratically, had lost eight pounds in a few months, and had several panic attacks, one of which sent her to Bartlett Regional Hospital's emergency room to see if she had had a heart attack.

People who have the disorder often have flashbacks or nightmares about the original trauma, and they can be depressed, anxious, hyper-vigilant or feel numb, Ellis said.

Defense attorney Leslie Longenbaugh asked Hayes and Ellis how they knew Carpenter wasn't malingering, which refers to exaggerating or faking symptoms for self-gain, such as getting disability payments.

Longenbaugh's cross-examination showed that Hayes and Ellis didn't independently verify what Carpenter's emotional or physical condition was before the radio show and in the six months since the show and before she saw them. But both therapists said they ruled out malingering.

Hayes said she saw Carpenter 27 times for therapy between July 1999 and June 2000. Ellis saw her six to eight times for therapy starting in May 2000, he said.

Ellis, who said he has worked as a psychiatrist in Juneau since 1992, said he has treated hundreds of people here for post-traumatic stress disorder and saw many cases of it earlier in his career working with Southeast Asian refugees. He also has worked in state prisons and said he had seen many malingerers there.

The trial is scheduled to continue Monday with further testimony from Carpenter, who is a ceramic and silk-screen artist and has owned and worked in gift shops in Juneau.

While Leykis is in Juneau he is broadcasting from a studio at KTOO radio. Thom Ferro, an executive at Westwood One, said Leykis does not mention the trial in his broadcasts. The show does not air in Juneau.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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